Urban lakes in India as a socio-ecological system

Urban lakes are transformed into ecosystems different from the known natural wetlands and the traditionally constructed lakes, which has made the governance complex and the lake sustainability uncertain. This is one of the outcomes of the PhDthesis ‘Social-Ecological System Framework. Understanding urban lake governance and sustainability in India’ by Mansee Bal. The patterns of interaction and outcome of lake system characteristics show that the complex problems and processes of governance and sustainability are here to stay, says Bal. With better understanding, the lake governance and sustainability problems can be reduced and delayed. She defends her thesis at Erasmus University Rotterdam on Friday 20 February 2015.

The governance and sustainability is intertwined with the value that the local community and the policy makers ascribe to a lake. The challenge of governance towards sustainability is ambushed with a dilemma between lake development and conservation. Urban lake governance aspires to achieve the ‘best fit’ towards ‘a transition to lake sustainability’.

Polycentric lake government
Amidst the polycentric lake governance, the several organisations struggle to hold the collective agreements and to collectively maintain the lakes. The assumption that successful collective action leads to good lake condition is just one scenario of the causal relation between collective action and lake condition. The different scenarios are influenced by events and disturbances happening in either/and the social-ecological sub-systems. Bal constructed a conceptual model to demonstrate the non-linearity of the causal relation between them. The success/failure of one and/or the other cannot be generalized as panacea.

Complex problems
Urban lake systems are referred as one kind of social-ecological system, i.e. an ecological system linked with and affected by one or more social systems in complex way. Governing and sustaining a lake system entails investigations and improvements in its social and ecological characteristics such as, the lake ecology, its use and users, governance and the contextual environment within which they are located. Governing and sustaining these characteristics involve complex problems and processes; and understanding them requires sound analytical tool and systematic analysis. There is also an urge for integrated knowledge of these characteristics among the lake managers and researchers in India. The approach of understanding is intrigued by the usefulness of the social-ecological system (SES) framework, which is a legacy of Elinor Ostrom’s theoretical and empirical foundations on long term sustainable resources and their management.

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